HOME CHAT NAB PRAYERS FORUMS COMMUNITY RCIA MAGAZINE CATECHISM LINKS CONTACT
 CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA  A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
 CATHOLIC SAINTS INDEX  A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
 CATHOLIC DICTIONARY  A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Home
 
Bible
 
Catechism
 
Chat
 
Catholic Encyclopedia
 
Church Fathers
 
Classics Library
 
Church Documents
 
Discussion
 
Mysticism
 
Prayer
 
Prayer Requests
 
RCIA
 
Vocations
 
Ray of Hope
 
Saints
 
Social Doctrine
 
Links
 
Contact
 







A Commentary On The Psalms From Primitive and Mediæval Writers Volumes 1 To 4 by Rev. J.M. Neale D.D.

Gregorian. That I offend not * with my tongue.

Monastic. The same.

Quignon. In GOD * is my salvation and my glory.

Mozarabic. None.

Parisian. Save me, O GOD, * for the faithful are minished from the children of men.

1a (1) I said, I will take heed to my ways: that I offend not in my tongue.

The story is well known how Pambo,* a recluse of the Egyptian desert, when about to enter on his novitiate, betook himself to an aged monk, and requested from him instruction for his new course of life. The old man opened his Psalter, and began to read the present verse. “That is enough,” said Pambo; “let me go home and practise it.” And long, long after, being asked by one of his brethren whether he were yet perfect in his first lesson, the saint, now in his turn an aged man, replied, “Forty and nine years have I dwelt in this desert, and am only just beginning to learn how to obey the commandment.” They well say that S. James has almost taken away the office of a commentator from any one else: “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.… And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature, and it is set on fire of hell.”* And notice the double duty contained in this verse: That I offend not with my tongue, in speaking when I ought to be silent, or saying that which I ought not to say: and that I offend not with my tongue also in being silent when I ought to speak; in having never a word on GOD’S side,* when the world and the devil have advocates more than enough. There is a time to keep silence,* says the wise man, and he puts that first; but there is a time to speak also. And the order is well set. There is a time to keep silence—namely,* in this world, where silence is often our best safeguard; there is a time to speak in the world to come, when, as it is written, “I will sing and speak praises unto the LORD.” But chiefly as we repeat this verse do we see the Word of the FATHER standing silent before the judgment-seats both of Herod and Pontius Pilate; “insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.” And compare here the Saint of all saints with one of His most glorious followers: the one,* “as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth;” the other was but too ready with his “GOD shall smite thee, thou whited wall.”* I said. And they observe that any one who can thus set down his resolution with the feeling and certainty that it will be kept, (Cd.) is not far from the kingdom of GOD. I said: nothing easier generally; “They say, and do not:” but I said as one who is in earnest,—one who knows that by our words we shall be justified, and by our words we shall be condemned,—one that remembers Who it was that from our words took the title of His own Incarnate Godhead, THE WORD,—this is a kind of speech indeed which is worth being reported by the Psalmist.

1b (2) I will keep my mouth as it were with a bridle: while the ungodly is in my sight.

In the Vulgate we have no mention of the bridle: it is simply, I set a guard about my mouth. But the other early translations give it as we have it. And notice this: here we have the resolution of one who is striving to keep GOD’S law, that he will close his mouth; whereas, in the description of the virtuous woman as we have it in the Book of Proverbs, it is, “She openeth her mouth with wisdom.” And they behold in this a deep mystery. Up to the time of her who was blessed above women, (Ay.) the Word of GOD was, as it were, sealed up; “The mystery was hid from ages and from generations.” But from the time that she exclaimed, “Behold the handmaid of the LORD,” the mouth of those that declared the will of GOD was indeed opened with wisdom. For so it follows: while the ungodly is in my sight. As if he, the ungodly,—he, the source and fountain of all ungodliness,—was openly in the sight of the world, was the lord and ruler of that world before the Incarnation. Therefore, up to that time the prophecies were sealed, the types were hidden, the parables were dark; but after that the ungodly had lost the empire of this world,—after that Satan had, as lightning, fallen from heaven,—then no more occasion for this repression of the truth, this keeping the mouth, as it were, with a bridle. And notice also, that even more exactly than the former verse, this applies to Him who stood silent before the seat of the ungodly. S. Bernard,* preaching to a secular congregation, uses a metaphor which they must all have understood. The falconer does not dismiss the hawk unless the heron be in sight; so neither will the good man permit a word to fly from his tongue, unless there be that which may be struck and transfixed by it. S. Chrysostom observes that GOD, as the most wise Architect of the human body, has in-closed the tongue with a deep fortification—the teeth, namely,* and the lips; as if knowing how liable that member is to the assaults of our great enemy. And how often might the true GOD say to us, what the false deity of Homer exclaims,

τέκυον ἐμὸν, ποῖόν σε ϝέπος φύγεν ἕρκος ὀδόυτων;

And again: While the ungodly is in my sight. But we know for how short a time the ungodly will be out of the sight of the servant, even as he was of the Master. When the devil had ended all his temptation, he departed from Him for a season. And so this season, and so this period in which the mouth need not be kept as it were with a bridle, is but for a little moment; is but, (C.) so to speak, the time in-which Satan is preparing himself for new attacks.

2 (3) I held my tongue, and spake nothing: I kept silence, yea, even from good words; but it was pain and grief to me.

And there are two senses, (L.) entirely opposite to each other, in which we may take the verse; the one applying to David, the other to the Son of David. To David: He kept silence in those long months in which, after the death of Uriah, the king had taken Bathsheba to be his wife, and of which the only record is, “Nevertheless, the thing which David had done displeased the LORD:”* the other, to the Son of David, when He also kept silence, as was just now said, before the tribunal of Pilate and Herod. The Chaldean has: I kept silence from the words of the law, therefore my grief was renewed: a plain enough sense as applied to David himself. S. Ambrose takes it to signify,* that the duty of the good man, who, when falsely accused, would follow the example of his LORD, is sometimes altogether to be silent, without any attempt to make manifest his innocence; which he shows by the example of Joseph, when accused by Potiphar’s wife, and by that of Susanna, when slandered by the elders. But S. Jerome remonstrates vigorously against such an interpretation,* and dwells at great length on the duty of not letting our good be evil spoken of. There are nine interpretations of keeping silence from good which have been more or less in vogue among the interpreters of the Church: of these the strangest is that which tells us that good is here put for ill, (L.) the Psalmist not being willing to mention wickedness; and that David here,* therefore, only tells us how assiduously he strove against every idle word. But it is much better to refer the phrase altogether to our dear LORD; and that in His own sense of not casting our pearls before swine. Seeing that one of His good words was distorted into “This Man calleth for Elias,”* good need there was that He should keep silence from such.

3 (4) My heart was hot within me, and while I was thus musing the fire kindled: and at the last I spake with my tongue,

They see in this the secret operation of the HOLY GHOST,* by which the heart of each of His servants is itself kindled with the full fervour of His love, before he endeavours to impart to others that which he himself has received. They see, for example, S. Augustine in his narrow cell at Rome, before he proclaimed CHRIST Crucified under that old oak in Kent. They see S. Francis stripping himself of all his earthly possessions in his Italian home, before offering to enter the furnace, if the Egyptian soldan would by that miracle be converted to his LORD. They see S. Francis Xavier in prayer and meditation in his Portuguese monastery, before bringing in thousands to JESUS; truer pearls than those of the Pearl coast,* a sweeter savour before the throne of GOD than that of the Spice islands. The fire kindled. This is the fire which CHRIST came to send upon earth; the fire which sprang from Himself, even as when the angel touched the rock with his staff,* the flame rose up out of it, and consumed the sacrifice. This is the fire of which GOD spoke to Jeremiah, “Behold, I will make My words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.”* This is the fire of which the LORD speaks when He tells of the candle that is lighted, not to be put under a bushel, but on a candlestick, to the end it may give light to all that are in the house, the universal house of GOD, the Catholic Church. S. Bernard well says that the coming of GOD into the heart of each of His saints is thus described: “There shall go a fire before Him, and burn up His enemies on every side.”* And at the last I spake with my tongue. They gather from hence how the preacher ought long, as well as deeply, to have been kindled with the fire of GOD’S love, before he endeavours to kindle others with the same. At the last. Not in the first glow of a heart turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto GOD; not in that early stage of love, when the difficulties have scarcely been weighed,—when the cost has hardly been counted,—when nothing seems certain but this, that anything, that everything must be done for Him Who has done all for us. That great preacher,*—that saint, of so deep insight into the human heart,—perhaps, on the whole, the most remarkable saint of the sixteenth century,—S. Thomas,—dwells at great length on the subject. At last I spake with my tongue: when I not only knew what has to be done, but the difficulties which lie in the way of doing it; not only man’s duties, but his weakness; not only GOD’S requirements, but also Satan’s temptations. When, in short, the preacher can enter into the full spirit of that most merciful Spanish proverb, “You see what I drink, but not the thirst I suffer,” then it should follow, At the last I spake with my tongue.

4 (5) LORD, let me know mine end and the number of my days: that I may be certified how long I have to live.

It is not so easy to apply this verse to the Eternal Word of GOD. For He did know from the beginning His end and the number of His days: as it is written by that Apostle who had drunk most deeply into His Divine secrets, (L.) “JESUS, knowing all things which should come upon Him.” But they take it rather of the voice of the Church before the coming of the LORD. “Let me know how long I have to endure this darkness, (Ay.) and long for the light; this tyranny, and long for liberty; this time, when many prophets and righteous kings desire to behold the coming Salvation, and are not yet permitted to see it.”* And in this sense also they take those words of Job, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one. Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with Thee, Thou hast appointed his bounds which he cannot pass; turn from him, until he shall accomplish, as an hireling, his day.”* “The number of his months are with Thee,”—that is, the allotted time before the tyranny of Satan shall be riven in sunder, the four hundred and thirty years before Israel shall go free from the tyranny of Pharaoh. This was the study of Daniel, when, in the Babylonian captivity, he prayed to be taught how long would be the time ere Israel yet returned to their own land.* S. Chrysostom, as most of the Greek Fathers, ignoring this mystical signification, take the verse in its more ordinary sense. “Let me, let each of Thy servants, know the number of our days, that I may be certified (not as we read it—how long I have to live, but) quid desit mihi: τὶ ὑστερῷ ἐγώ; how much I yet lack, or come short in: come short in, that is, to the working out my own salvation.”* And thus also the Angelic Doctor explains the passage most emphatically. And here they dwell at great length on those remarkable warnings of diminished life, “The bloodthirsty and deceitful man shall not live out half his days:” that though GOD has appointed a time which man might reach, if he would, sin cuts it short. Hear what Vieyra, in one of his most fearful sermons, has written with respect to this very subject. “GOD most manifestly declares and teaches us, says S. Augustine, that He has assigned to each man a certain measure or number of sins, until the completion and consummation of which He waits for their conversion; but as soon as that measure is fulfilled, that number accomplished, GOD waits no longer, and remediless condemnation ensues.* S. Ambrose affirms the same thing, where he comments on that passage, ‘The iniquities of the Amorites are not yet full.’* And because this is the common opinion of all the expositors of Holy Scripture, the most learned of all shall suffice for the rest. Cornelius à Lapide, writing on the ephah of Zechariah, says thus: ‘The ephah is the measure of the sins of each, be it man or people; on the completion of which GOD’S anger will be worked out in revenge.’* And there is no difficulty in the fact that this measure of sins is greater for one man, less for another; because this very inequality, as we in our poor intelligence call it, is in Divine Providence the highest justice. For answer me this: GOD also measures the days of the life of each man,* as David tells us, ‘Behold, Thou hast made a measure to my days.’ And this measure is so certain and determined, that, when the last day has arrived, there is no help for it; as Job affirms, ‘Thou hast set him his bounds which he cannot pass.’* Well, then; as no man complains of GOD, nor thinks it strange that the measure of one man’s days should be so much less than that of another, much less should it seem strange that the measure of sin should also be unequal, especially when we consider that one, and that the very first sin, is sufficient to induce GOD, if He judged us according to strict justice, to damn us. The reason is the supreme dominion of GOD, Who is equally the Author of grace and of nature; and thus since, so far as He is Author of nature, He can limit life to a certain number of days without injustice to the individual man, so, without injustice to the same man, can He limit His pardon to a certain number of sins. Whence it follows that, as the day which fills up the number of all our days is necessarily the last,—so that, when it has ended its course, die we must,—so, in like manner, the sin which fills up the number of our sins is also the last, and once committed, leaves no escape from condemnation, because there is no longer any place for pardon.”

5 (6) Behold, thou hast made my days as it were a span long: and mine age is even as nothing in respect of thee; and verily every man living is altogether vanity.

Or as it is in the Vulgate, (Ay.) Behold, Thou hast made my days measurable. That is, they say, Time against action: so much to be done, so long to do it in: a race of such a length to be run, such a space of time allowed for its completion. They finely compare with this verse, that saying in Isaiah, “Who hath.… meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?” See how beautifully the two respond to each other.* Thou hast made my days as it were a span long. Yet also: “Thou hast meted out the heavens with the span,”* with this very span, the span of human life. That is, however high those heavens, however glorious that reward, however infinite and eternal that blessedness, it is not above my span; it is not past my strength. And take the word days in a good sense. My days, (L.) those works which I do, those efforts that I make, by the light of the Sun of Righteousness, they shall end in the true Day:

The Light that hath no evening,

That needs nor moon nor sun:

The Light so new and golden,

The Light that is but one.

Mine age is even as nothing in respect of Thee. And so had Job pleaded before: “Spare me, O LORD, for my days are vanity.”* As David here: And verily every man living is altogether vanity.

Exigua pars est vitæ quam nos vivimus,

said the old Roman poet.* Will you take the vanity as man’s misfortune or his fault? Most mediæval writers explain it of the former: Apollinarius, I think, of the latter.

καὶ μάλα ῥίζαν ἐμῆς βιοτῆς ἀχρήϊον ἔγυως.*

Hence they dwell,* by way of contrast, on the glorious title, I AM THAT I AM: that man cannot properly be said to be or exist: that real and very existence is the property of GOD alone. Every man. Some have taken it whole man; that is, man in his most perfect state.* And they say that He—to speak it with all reverence—Who became perfect Man, (W.) that He might redeem man, may thus be called by the title of vanity, even as He says Himself in another place, “As for Me, I am a worm, AND NO MAN.”

6 (7) For man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain: he heapeth up riches, and cannot tell who shall gather them.

How in a vain shadow? Some say, the valley of the shadow of death, through which the saints must pass all the days of their mortal life.

In hoc loco tenebrarum,*

In hac valle lacrymarum,

In hac solitudine,

Suspirabas et plorabas

Et ad lucem aspirabas

Quæ caret caligine.

Others take it that he walks like an unreal phantom, or appearance in a mirror, or the unsubstantial shade of a real object.* But others, more beautifully take the shadow—in imagine pertransit homo: ἐν εἰκόνι διαπορεύσεται ἄνθρωπος—to refer to that Image in which he was at first created, and which however much broken and debased, has never wholly been lost. Here we must take but rather than for. “Every man living is altogether vanity:” (A.) but—nevertheless—he walketh in the Image of GOD, poor,* and vain, and miserable as his present life may seem. And disquieteth himself in vain. Surely,* they say, (D. C.) for the Great King will not permit His Image to perish: for the Creator must needs have compassion on the works of His hands. And there is yet another sense in which we may take the two verses, and that, perhaps, the most striking of all. Man walketh in a vain shadow: namely, a shadow of good things to come: every external appearance of nature,* every human occupation, leading onward and upward to something higher and better. So our LORD taught in many of His parables: of the fields ripe to the harvest, (Cd.) of the city set upon an hill, of the lilies that neither toil nor spin. He that would desire to see this whole idea worked out,* has only to consult Bellarmine’s Ascensio mentis in Deum per scalam rerum creatarum. He then that might thus be led by visible to invisible beauty, does disquiet himself in vain, if he sets much store by the things of this world. He heapeth up riches. The later writers give us all the commonplace of the uncertainty of wealth, and the certainty of death, and rightly quote the sermon of S. John Chrysostom on this text,* delivered to those rich and luxurious Antiochenes. But I confess, the mediæval interpretation to me is far lovelier: He, Whose every action or suffering was the acquiring of merit; He, Who whether He laboured or rested, still was working out our salvation; He, Who completed and enhanced all His merits by the Death of the Cross; He heaped up riches indeed, (B.) the infinite abyss of His deserts, and cannot tell, in so far as Man alone, who shall gather them, what poor guilty sinner shall find healing, what glorious saint shall there acquire victory.

But, (G.) returning to the former sense: “Now,” says Gerhohus, “Idithun beholding celestial things above, terrestrial things below, having overleapt the one, and still stretching forth to the other, continues and exclaims:

7 (8) And now, LORD, what is my hope: truly my hope is even in thee.

O LORD JESUS,* Who has not hoped for Thee? whether as the Doctor of Thy people, Who shalt show them the way of wisdom; or as their Redeemer,* Who shalt purchase them from all bondage; or as the Liberator,* Who shalt set free the spirits in prison; or as their Cleanser,* Who shalt purify them from sin; or as their Illuminator, Who shalt disperse the darkness from their hearts; or as their Protector,* Who shalt guard them against their enemies; or finally,* as their exceeding and eternal great Reward. These seven expectations are the groundwork of the seven O’s; the glorious Antiphons and Magnificat, sung in the week of the LORD’S Expectation:

Draw nigh, draw nigh, Emmanuel,*

And ransom captive Israel!

That mourns in lonely darkness here,

Until the SON of GOD appear.

Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall be born for thee, O Israel!

What is my hope? Truly this: that though I now sit, (G.) as a stranger in a strange land, vainly endeavouring to satisfy my ravening hunger with the husks that the swine do eat, the day will come when I shall arise and go to my FATHER, even when He calls me to depart from this world, and that then He will give me a place and an inheritance among His hired servants, among those who have well borne the labour and heat of the day for the penny of eternal salvation; yea, even among His sons; yea, even with His First-Begotten SON, my Elder Brother JESUS CHRIST.1 Lo, (D. C.) David’s prayer is heard! He had said above, “LORD, let me know mine end;” that is, the thing which should be my aim, my goal, my scope, the one object of my life; and here he has found it. This his hope,* or aim, is GOD, and GOD only. And he has not only obtained his petition, but he has won a benediction: as it is written, Blessed is he that waiteth for the LORD. The second clause of the verse is different in the Vulgate. And now what is my expectation? is it not the Lord? and my2 substance is with Thee. That is, (A.) that in Him we have our true essence; in Him we live, (G.) and move, and have our being; what we are, in and by Him we are. Gloriously Gerhohus: “My substance is with Thee. For my substance, not my guilt, was assumed by Thy SON; and in this Thine Only-Begotten, my nature, my very flesh, is before Thee. Less than Thee in nature, but not less in glory: because the glory of the Only-Begotten, which my nature possesseth in CHRIST, is not inferior to the glory of the FATHER; nor didst Thou, when Thou madest Him a little lower than the Angels, subtract anything of Thy glory from Him, Who is altogether and eternally consubstantial with Thee.… Thus singing with Idithun, we pass above all things which are lower than GOD, and in the most highest glory of the very Deity we venerate the human substance, and say, What is my hope? Mine, who am a servant? Is it not the Lord? Is it not that I shall enter into the joy of my LORD? But whence is this to me, the servant, that the joy or glory of my LORD should come unto me? Thence it is, because, O my LORD, my substance is with Thee: there in Thy highest glory, O King of Eternal Glory, O GOD the FATHER! Now in the end of the world, I have intercession with Thee, when the Man-GOD intercedes for me: Consubstantial with me, in that He is Man; consubstantial with Thee, in that He is GOD.”

8 (9) Deliver me from all mine offences: and make me not a rebuke unto the foolish.

From all mine offences. They fall eagerly on the scholastic question, (L.) whether GOD can, by His infinite power, in accordance with His justice, forgive one mortal sin without forgiving all. But rather look at the faith which instigates this pleading. Let not me, O LORD, for whom Thou didst die, ever have this cast in my teeth by Satan,* that Thou didst die for me in vain!

Quærens mc, sedisti lassus:

Redemisti crucem passus:

Tantus labor non sit cassus.

And we may boldly put the words into our dear LORD’S mouth, when overwhelmed with the weight of all the sins of all the world, He was hanging on the Cross.* A rebuke unto the foolish. First, to those that passed by, wagging their heads, and saying, “If Thou be the SON of GOD, save Thyself, and come down from the Cross!”* Then from him who, in his mad folly, would be like the Most High; would exalt his throne above the stars of GOD. And in their degree, every martyr, of whom it is written, They fools counted his life madness, and his end to be without honour, prays to be delivered from the load of cruel mockeries. And doubt not this; that, of all the bitter agony which will be the portion of the lost soul at that Depart, ye cursed, not the least will be the bitter reproaches and derision of those evil spirits who have seduced him to his ruin.* “For this morsel of meat to have sold thy birthright! For the fleshly pleasures of a few days to have bartered thine eternal jewel! For a few grains of yellow earth to have missed the city with streets of gold, and gates of several pearls! O fool beyond all folly! O madman beyond all insanity!” Truly we have need to pray with all earnestness, Make me not a rebuke unto the foolish.

9 (10) I became dumb, and opened not my mouth: for it was thy doing.

Who can dare1 to take these words of any but of the spotless LAMB? (L.) or at least only of others so far as they typify His patience and silence? So Eli: “It is the LORD; let Him do what seemeth Him good.”* So Job: “What? shall we receive good at the hand of GOD, and shall we not receive evil? So the Maccabees:* “Nevertheless, as the will of GOD is in heaven, so let Him do.” But rather see the Martyr of Martyrs, when He answered never a word, insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.* “For Thou wast silent, innocent LAMB, that Thou mightest atone for our evil speeches. Thy tongue spoke not at all, because the tongues of this world are worlds of iniquity. Thou, when reviled, reviledst not, that we might bridle our lips with the remembrance of Thy forbearance. Thou, the Word, archetypal and consubstantial, didst now surround Thyself with silence. LORD and lover of men, glory be to Thee!” For it was Thy doing. O true answer to all suggestions and temptations to impatience! Reply which David himself made in another place, touching Shimei: “Let him alone, and let him curse, for the LORD hath bidden him.”* Or you may take it in another sense, equally true: I was enabled thus to remain silent, for it was Thou that gavest me grace to remain so.

ἔτλην κωφὸς ἄναιδος• ἐρεὶ σύ με τοῖον ἔτευξας•*

says Apollinarius.

10 (11) Take thy plague1 away from me: I am even consumed by the means of thy heavy hand.

“Take Thy plague away,”* exclaims S. Ambrose, “ ‘And I truly am prepared for the plague.’ How can the two be reconciled?” And he affirms the explanation to be, that he had now, by his sufferings of shame and pain undergone the chastisement that GOD had thought necessary for him; and the cause having ceased, the effect might also be removed. But does not the Son of David Himself give us another interpretation? In that He at one time said, “I have a Baptism to be baptised with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished;” and yet at another, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me,” did He not show that these variations of feeling are only a proof of His perfect Humanity: the same variation which will lead His true servant sometimes to be full of joy at the approaching conflict, sometimes to desire that, were GOD’S will so, he might be spared it? “But one stroke,”* cries a loving saint, “one stroke we will not ask Thee to take from us; nay, rather, we will implore Thee that Thou wouldest never take from us, the reflection of and participation in, Thine own wounds, so that we with Paul may say, ‘From henceforth let no’ evil spirit venture nigh me to ‘trouble me; for I bear in my body the marks of the LORD JESUS.’ ”* This is the higher love, doubtless: just as when the Bride makes petition,* “Awake, O north wind, and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out:” it is placed first, as the higher act, to ask for the cold, nipping, north wind, if that be necessary, than for the sweet sunny southern breeze, however for that also he may make supplication. I am even consumed. And who could more truly say so than the Only-Begotten SON? To others, (D. C.) the FATHER’S hand deals not with them after their sins, nor rewards them according to their iniquities: to Him, the Beloved One, it was unmixed heaviness. It is a curious sense in which some take the defeci, the ἐξέλιπον, as if David had intended to say that he failed from, (Ay.) that he had renounced, sin, because he had thus suffered; in other words, that this is a parallel to the verse, “Before I was troubled I went astray: but now have I kept Thy law.”

11 (12) When thou with rebukes dost chasten man for sin, thou makest his beauty to consume away, like as it were a moth fretting a garment: every man therefore is but vanity.

With rebukes. As that Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin, written on the wall of the Babylonian palace—as the handwriting on the sand, (L.) which caused the accusers of the adulteress to be convicted by their own consciences. Let us by all means hear the scriptural S. Albertus: “And note,* that the rebukes of GOD are to be endured patiently. First, on account of the example of CHRIST: ‘I hid not My Face from shame and spitting.’* Also for the avoiding evil; and first, the evil of guilt. ‘How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof! I was almost in all evil.’* Also of sudden death: ‘He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.’ And of ignorance: ‘He that hateth reproof is brutish.’* And of the fear of hell: ‘He that hateth reproof shall die.’* Also for the obtaining divers kinds of good things. Firstly, knowledge. ‘He that heareth reproof getteth understanding.’* And again: ‘The rod and reproof give wisdom.’* And life: ‘Reproofs of instruction are the way of life.’* Again: ‘So wilt Thou correct me, and make me to live.’ ”*

The next clause is difficult enough. Even as it were a moth fretting a garment. The sense is clear, but the three last words are not in the Hebrew. Thou causest his soul to consume like a spider: so is the Vulgate and the LXX. But it is a moth in the original; and they discover many ways in which the likeness applies.

Grossa retro: succincta: brevis: virus: timet ignem.*

Pro muscis: pendens: viscere texit opus.

But this translation—the spider—reminds us of a curious tradition of the Hebrews: That David, in his youth, desired to know from GOD why He had created three things that appeared most useless—madmen, spiders, flies. The Divine answer was,* that at a future time David should learn, by finding that they were all useful to himself. And so it came to pass. The first—when he himself feigned madness in the palace of Achish. The fly: when he took the spear from Saul while asleep, (L.) he became so pent up behind Abner, that he could not retreat; a fly stung that warrior, and, without waking, caused him to move, and so liberated David. The spider: when, flying from Saul in the desert of Ziph, a web was spun over a cave in which he rested, and thus the band in search of him were led to believe that none could be there. And notice that in the Chaldaic paraphrase of Psalm 57, instead of, “I will cry unto the Most High GOD, even unto the GOD That shall perform the cause which I have in hand,” it is, “I will cry unto the most high and mighty GOD, Which sent the spider, that she should spin her web in the mouth of the cave to preserve me.”*

12a (13) Hear my prayer, O LORD, and with thine ears consider my calling: hold not thy peace at my tears.

12b (14) For I am a stranger with thee: and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.

“I know that Thou hearest Me always.” O Thou Only-Begotten SON, (W.) what would become of us if this were not so? If Thy prayers, once offered as the Victim, slain from the beginning of the world—now as the Great High Priest That by His own Blood has made entrance into the Holy of Holies—were not always heard, were not of infinite and prevailing merit! My tears. The strong crying and tears of which S. Paul speaks: the tears, when He was troubled in spirit, saying, “FATHER, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, (G.) but as Thou wilt.”* It is a beautiful idea of Gerhohus, that the tears may be future as well as past. I cannot tell what I yet have to suffer. Thou knowest. I cannot tell how my future road lies. Thou knowest. (A.) Thou canst pity all. Thou canst counsel for all; Thou canst provide for all.* I am a stranger with thee. They see in this a reference to Jacob—how he was a stranger in a strange land; how he, while yet a stranger, was comforted with that glorious vision; how such a pillow of stone, how such a dwelling—Luz—thus helped him forward on his road. I am a stranger.* But how? with Thee. O LORD, what matter the more or less of my strangeness on earth, if one of the many mansions is prepared for me in heaven? And oh what misery were that, had it been written, a stranger to Thee! But no—a stranger on earth, a denizen of heaven: a stranger with the weakness and infirmity of the flesh, at home in all the longing and expectation of the spirit: a stranger, while I look at the things seen, a citizen while I look at the things unseen: then indeed is it as all my fathers were. Then is it as all the Fathers of the Church—let them be Martyrs or Confessors,* that went home to Thee. Still I desire to be like them; still I shall one day be like them; still, some day—for me and for them—the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.

13 (15) O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength: before I go hence, and be no more seen.

There are few texts which have been more earnestly discussed. Whether the Psalmist is speaking of sin or of sorrow, whether the strength refers to the Baptismal power once given in full—so often weakened and so miserably lessened. And spare me—where? I will not be tempted away from my settled purpose of not entering on any polemical subject in the Psalms of Peace. Let those who choose see a reference to Purgatory here—I would rather see in it the sure consolation we can all lay hold of. Spare me, that I may show Thy grace, and its power to man. Spare me, (G.) that by conquering, and trampling down, the favourite sin of my own heart, I may make me fit to sit in the light of Thy Love. Seen I shall be, (W.) one day, the latter day when Thou, O LORD, shalt stand on the earth. Seen I must be when the wicked shall be severed from the good—the tares from the corn; but till then—while both grow together till the harvest—till then, while none shall dare to pronounce the definitive judgment—spare me! I have need to be spared now! Forgive me! Unbind me! Spare me for His sake Who was not spared! Forgive me, (Ay.) for His sake Who had no need of forgiveness for sin, and yet was condemned! Pity me now for His sake Who cried with an exceeding great and bitter cry, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani?

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, in Whose Image we are created; and to the SON, Who was chastened with rebukes: and to the HOLY GHOST, of Whom it is said, My hope is ever in Thee;

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.








Copyright ©1999-2016 e-Catholic2000.com